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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, January, #37




By far 2002 has been my worst year for blackjack. So I decided to attempt a comeback with a holiday trip to the Tunica area casinos. I was hoping the low limits plus numerous casinos would help me get back into the black. Two other blackjack players and one slot player accompanied me on the trip.

After a long ride I played my first session at the Grand Casino, which featured single, double and six-deck games. Because my bankroll had been seriously depleted in 2002, I decided beforehand that this was going to be a "low-limit-betting" trip. My first bet - $15 along with a $15 Matchplay coupon at a $10 six-deck shoe game - was a winner. Good start but unfortunately, 90 minutes later I ended the session with five consecutive losing hands including a double down. I left disgustedly, already down $74 for the trip.

Day two started off with a $25 winning session at a single-deck game at the Grand. With four players they only dealt two rounds then reshuffled. I decided that this game would be difficult to beat in the long run so I switched to a six-deck shoe game.

In general, Tunica casinos offer good penetration. If you scout around it is not unusual to find six-deck games being dealt down to 1 deck (i.e. 84% penetration). However, even with the good penetration I wound up with a $5 loss.

Next it was off to Ballyís to cash in some promotional coupons and play a little blackjack. A two-deck game dealt down to 0.6 decks brought a $92 win. This was an unusual session because there were no ploppies at the table. Once, when the dealer had a 20 and mistakenly thought she had a 17 she paid the table and thank God, no ploppie bothered to correct her. The player at third base asked if I saw the dealer mistake. I explained that I did, but I felt it was impolite to be constantly pointing out the mistakes of others.

A short trip to the Sheraton brought an $83 winning session after one hour at a $5 double-deck game. I once again got good penetration with a friendly dealer dealing down to 0.5 decks.

A short walk over to the Horseshoe found a much more crowded casino. I played a double-deck and also a six-deck shoe game and broke even. Tunica is such a relief from the Indiana riverboats where I play most of the time. With numerous double-deck games and great penetration available in Tunica, I wonder why I even bother to go to the riverboats since they offer mostly crowded six and eight-deck shoe games with poor penetration.

A one-hour session at a six-deck shoe game at the Grand resulted in a $142 loss. I had everything I wanted including a shoe game with a $5 limit. When the count went up so did my bets. Unfortunately most of the tens I drew were to stiff hands while the dealer, naturally, kept getting a pat twenty on his first two cards.

After a free meal at Ballyís we went to a crowded Gold Strike casino. I managed to post a $67 win spreading from $5 to $30 at a six-deck shoe game.

I went back to the Grand where my playing buddy Louie and I grabbed 2 seats at a $10 double-deck game. The cards were falling just like they were supposed to and I slowly worked on a winning session. When Louie jumped from a $10 bet to a $50 bet our friendly dealer surprisingly asked Louie if his maximum bet spread was 1 to 5. The dealer went on to say that he used three counting methods and had investors bankroll him when he plays.

I was hoping that my less aggressive bet spread would go unnoticed. However, that myth was shattered when the same dealer told the player sitting between us that he should raise his bet when we (Louie and I) did "because they are card counters". Since the floorman had just given us food comps, I didnít feel threatened. Plus it was getting late and after I mistakenly tried to split a 2 and a 3, I decided to call it a night with a $68 win.

I was up for the trip and had high expectations as day 3 began. But my first session at the Grand brought a $195 loss at a $10 double-deck table. I was doing poorly on my own when Louie called me over to a less crowded table. This didnít help as I continued to receive bad cards and poor penetration. I switched to a six-deck $5 table that was not crowded. The count and my bets went up quickly. Typical of my play this year, the dealer got all the high cards and my chips dwindled quickly. I reached my session loss limit but the true count was +4 and two decks remained in the shoe (the cut card was at 1 deck). So I did what I had to do and bought in for another $100. Unfortunately, I lost the last three hands in the shoe even though the count and penetration was excellent.

Frustrated, I talked my traveling companions into a road trip. Our first stop was Fitzgeralds. I played a $5 double-deck game but the cards were going the dealerís way. My playing pal Louie got frustrated and went over to a Caribbean
Stud game. I decided to stay and play and wound up heads-up against the dealer with the cards starting to fall my way for a change. But then a new dealer took over and he immediately suspected that I was counting. He explained that he played blackjack for a living for several years before giving up gambling completely. When I asked why he abandoned blackjack he stated that after several years playing "he felt that he was just chasing his tail".

I usually donít play much double or single deck games and didnít realize how easy it was to spot a counter at those games. Fortunately the dealers that knew I was counting didnít seem to care much and the pit personnel, to my knowledge, have not caught on to my advantage play. At Fitzgeralds dealers keep their own tokes so an occasional small toke goes a long way towards befriending dealers. Spreading from $5 to $30 was not a problem. A comeback left me down $4.50 for the session.

Our next trip was to Samís Town where we found an empty $10 single-deck table. Louie and I sat down and quickly discovered why it was empty. Louie was down $200 in ten minutes and I lost $90 in fifteen minutes. I switched to a quiet $5 six- deck game on the second floor, where I eked out a $42 win. Samís Town liked Louieís play so much that the floorman begged him to take a food comp. For the first time in memory I saw Louie turn down something free.

We went back to the Grand where I had 45 minutes to play before a social engagement. I tried a six- deck $5 shoe game and hit a hot streak. Spreading from one hand of $5 to two hands of $30 on plus counts, I won $258. It was one of those rare sessions where all my doubles and splits seemed to work. I even remembered hitting a 12 without drawing a 10 and busting (a rarity on this trip).

Later I returned to the same table to find the same friendly drunk still sitting there. The table was full and there was a new dealer so I found another $5 shoe game where I was able to spread from one to two hands at will. I groundout a $110 win over 4 hours taking frequent restroom breaks during negative counts.

A new day began with a $5 shoe game at the Grand. This was one of those all too familiar sessions where nothing went right. The count never got very high so my bets remained low. Over two hours I lost $171. It seemed like every stiff drew a 10-value card and the occasional pat 20 hands pushed. I tried 4 dealers at two tables with the same results.

A short trip to Harrahís brought another $32 loss at a $5 shoe game. My only consolation was that I lost less than everybody else did at the table. The dealers just werenít busting today.

We went across the parking lot and over to the Hollywood casino. I sat at a $5 single-deck game but quickly exited when I discovered that with five players they dealt only one round before shuffling. A six-deck shoe game looked more inviting, but that resulted in another $33 loss after losing three big hands with a high count. Itís frustrating Ė I was getting great penetration with un-crowded playing conditions but I couldnít seem to get the cards to beat the dealer hand.

Two more sessions at the Grand sandwiched around a very nice comped Steakhouse dinner left me down another $165. I played at a $5 shoe game and was getting some good counts. The problem was that the tables were crowded. When the count went high everybody but me was drawing 10sí and pat hands, including the dealer. It seemed the few bust hands that occurred were mine. Nobody noticed or cared that I was varying my bets from $5 to $15 and spreading to two hands when the count went up.

My final trip tally was a $446 loss with 8 winning and 13 loosing sessions. As usual, Tunica comps were easy to get. I didnít pay for a room or a meal even though I was playing for low stakes (note: my wife was playing slots at the same time and slot comps tend to add up fast).

If your are thinking of visiting Tunica and playing a shoe game, I recommend the Grand Casino. It is the only casino where the dealer stands on soft 17. Every casino offered six-deck shoe games; I did not see any eight-deck games. If you want to play single or double-deck games, you have several good choices. Scout around and you will probably find penetration down to 1 deck on 6 deck shoe games and 0.6 decks on double-deck games by at least 1 dealer at every casino. Evenings and weekends are the most crowded. The only drawback I could see would be for high limit counters trying to play unnoticed. The reason is because I didnít see many high limit players; therefore it would be difficult for the advantage player to get lost in the crowd.


Riverboat Flyer is a low stakes blackjack player. He plays the southern Ohio riverboats along with frequent trips to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Tunica and occasionally Lake Tahoe. He has been counting cards for over ten years, using the Hi-Op, High Low and currently the Half count system.

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